Matt Shortal and Mick Ranger might not be the first childhood mates to become brewery owners, but the story behind their entry into the beer world is a unique one.
For one, theirs isn't a new brewery at all. Instead, Mick, Matt and their partners Leslie and Renae (pictured above) purchased Geelong’s Cockies Beer and its home, Barralbool Hills Brewing, from founder Jamie Roydhouse, and the pair plan to honour Jamie’s legacy in more ways than one. As well as continuing to make the Cockies range of beers – along with new beers under a separate name – the man behind Cockies' award-wining beers is staying on as head brewer too.
Matt and Mick are both locals who had been looking to enter the world of brewing for some time; when the 12-hectolitre brewhouse and the Cockies brand came up for sale, it was too good an opportunity to pass. And, although Matt and Mick are passionate about the local beer industry, Matt says his background in marketing and Mick’s as a small business owner didn’t necessarily leave them well placed to hit the ground running.
“We’re both avid craft beer consumers but we’re not brewers,” he says.
“The way the discussion unfolded was that we were really interested in the business if [Jamie] stayed on, and he was really interested in selling the business if he could keep the job because he still wanted to be a brewer.
“So there was this match made in heaven where we really wanted his knowledge and to keep the quality of the beers we’d tasted out of the brewery.”
Alongside the existing Cockies beers, Matt and Mick are launching Great Ocean Road Brewing – taking the name from Jamie’s biggest seller, Cockies Ocean Road Pale Ale.
“We’ll have our own [range] and different beers in Great Ocean Road Brewing, but will continue to supply the Cockies Beers as we did beforehand, and nothing will change in that aspect.”
From Jamie’s perspective, he says he rapt with how things have worked out; although he had decided the time was right to sell his brewery, he's eager to keep working even at the age of 71.
“It was time I moved on from having a business but I still really wanted to keep brewing,” he says.
His passion for beer, at least making it anyway, stretches back many decades: he first started homebrewing at Pharmacy College in Melbourne in the 1970s.
“We just wanted some cheap alcohol – it was terrible, but it was alcohol, and that was all we what we wanted in those days,” he says.
Eventually that started producing positive results, even if it would be many years before Jamie and wife Liz launched their brewery. After working as a pharmacist, Jamie spent years in his father’s camera business before finally taking the plunge into the world of pro brewing, initially at Cavalier in Melbourne in 2014 before opening the doors to Barrabool Hills Brewing in 2015.
“It’s varied but that’s what keeps life interesting,” he says, while remarking on how it feels to still be working in a physically demanding job in his eighth decade.
“I don’t feel it. I can work all day and am pretty lucky like that, and the last thing I want to do is retire and sit at home and not do anything – I think that would kill me.”
All those years honing recipes paid off too, given it wasn’t too long after opening that Jamie’s brewery managed to produce not one but two trophies at the Australian International Beer Awards. Having met the man behind the since-shuttered BrewCult, Steve "Hendo" Henderson, at Cavalier, Jamie soon had Hendo – now at the helm of brewing consultancy Rockstar Brewer – brewing with him. It was a partnership that ultimately saw both pick up champion brewer trophies.
“He won the gypsy award and I won the new entrant award with the medals,” Jamie says.
As for what’s next for Cockies and the newly-established Great Ocean Road Brewing, Matt says that, as restrictions continue to ease and (presumably at some point) Victoria’s weather warms up, they hope to have the cellar door back open before the year’s out.
Since launching, Matt says they've enjoyed plenty of local support, something that's kept them busy, along with honing new recipes.
“Restaurants, bottleshops and pubs have been really supportive of trying to get behind local brewers," Matt says. "Coming out of COVID, everyone is really keen to support local business.”
Both Jamie and Matt reflect on a growing love for craft beer in the Geelong and Surf Coast region, where the likes of Blackman's Brewery, Bell's Beach, Cockies and Rogue Wave / Salt Brewing having slowly but steadily brought new people into their world.
As Matt puts it: “Hopefully we can just continue to build on what others have already done a great job getting started.”